In this second installment of our series on the K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) framework, you’ll learn about the design and governance of implementing this concept with all stakeholders.

If you missed the first installment, read it here: Introduction to K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management: Part 1.

In part one, you learned about the basics of SEM and why it’s increasingly important in K-12 education. Now what?

Figure Out the Problem You Need to Solve

To ensure you have the requirements in place for your new K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management system, first define the issues that must be addressed. Do this by crafting a problem statement. This isn’t just a critical first step. It’s also a way to keep everyone focused.

Below are some common enrollment issues used as a basis for problem statements:

  • High-risk populations lack equitable access to school options because they don’t have the time, resources, or know-how for finding school information.
  • Some families are unaware they have a choice in which school their children attend.
  • Families don’t have sufficient information about their school options.
  • Misaligned application timelines and separate school-based applications fuel family confusion and limit choice.
  • Transparency and trust in the lottery and student assignment process are lacking.
  • Mid-year transfer students have limited school options.
  • Schools can’t track interest or predict enrollment, which creates challenges with budget, communications, and capacity.
  • There is an overwhelming amount of paperwork and administrative overhead. 

To create your problem statement, identify the issue that is most important to address. Now craft a statement that specifically describes the issue. Use this statement as the focus for the work. If there are multiple issues, begin with the most critical problems. Build a plan to address the rest in future years.

What Enrollment Strategy Could Address the Problem We Need to Solve?

Refer back to your problem statement. Depending on the issues you most need to address and their complexity or urgency, you can incorporate one or more of these strategies to transform the enrollment experience.

  1. Coordinated marketing and outreach: Consolidate detailed, consistent school information into one central online location that’s easily accessed. Make print guides available as an alternative. Synchronize community outreach, such as expos, advertising, and direct messaging campaigns, across schools when possible. 
  2. Common timeline: Develop one simple timeline for the school application process across the entire system. Each school runs its own enrollment process, but all are aligned on the dates for applications, lotteries, offers, and offer acceptance.
  3. Common application: Participating schools use one system-wide application and one efficient, transparent application process that includes a common timeline. Each school runs its own assignment process, offers, and offer acceptance.
  4. Common enrollment: All students apply to multiple schools with their ranked preferences through a system-wide application. Administer one common lottery that adheres to each school’s enrollment prioritization policy using an automated algorithm for one single, optimized school “match” for each student.
  5. Common year-round processes: Follow one unified set of protocols for enrollment, transfers, and withdrawals across all schools. New students and transfer students have the same opportunities to access schools that enrollees had at the beginning of the year. Schools have consistent expectations for maintaining their enrollment levels. 
Other Factors That Determine Your Enrollment Strategy

Besides ensuring your new enrollment strategy addresses the unique issues you face, you’ll need to consider other important factors:

  • Financial resources available to implement and maintain the new system
  • Staffing and capacity to oversee implementation and ongoing management of the system
  • Nature of relationships between all schools in your community as well as the relationship with school and city leadership
  • Role of neighborhood school registration policy, process, and timing
  • How your application process aligns with registration across all schools

As your stakeholders talk through these factors, the scope and timing of what might work best should begin to come into focus.

What Does the Design Process Look Like?

When designing your K-12 Strategic Enrollment Management system and policies, there are two basic rules:

  1. Take your time (think months, not weeks)
  2. Involve as many stakeholders as practical

Most policy design processes take at least a few months (and up to a year) and require a consistent group of stakeholders committed to meeting on a regular basis to arrive at the decisions that will shape the system.

When assembling a design team, include higher-level decision makers (such as district and school administrators and board members leaders) to provide insight on budget, politics, and community impact; and stakeholders who have local enrollment expertise (such as registrars or office managers) and can draw on their front-line experience to weigh in on operational efficiency, technology challenges, and parent experience.

What to Consider When Designing SEM Policies

  • Coordinated Marketing and Outreach: Do community members know about school choice? How do they find information about education options? What school attributes do they desire most? What are the demographics of your community, and what is their access to technology like? Can community organizations help promote school options among families?
  • Common Timeline: What are your existing application, lottery, and registration dates? What’s the relationship between school, budget, and enrollment calendars? What are other schools’ calendars? Should the application window open earlier?
  • Common Application: What questions are on each school’s application? What questions must remain? Is the application done online or by paper? What languages are spoken in your community? Do you provide a ranking system for school selections in order of preference? How are students selected?
  • Common Enrollment: What happens when a school is over-capacity? Do you maintain waitlists or hold empty seats for students who apply at a later date? What are the school-level policies around over-offering seats? What happens to applicants who don’t match with requested schools? What’s the process for families who miss a deadline?
  • Common Year-Round Processes: What choices are available to students who move to your community after the beginning of the school year? What choices are available to existing students who transfer after the beginning of the school year? Who’s accountable for maintaining enrollment levels? What are your expectations and policies regarding expulsions?

Defining Success

It’s important to define what success looks like as you’re designing your system and policies. Refer back to the problem you are trying to solve, then document a succinct goal or two. When you’re setting goals, make each goal SMART:

  1. Specific. Don’t be afraid to specifically state what your picture of success looks like. Are there subsets of families you’re hoping will participate? Are there particular schools you’d like involved? Do you have a desired number of page views, inquiries, or applications?
  2. Measurable. Gather some real data. It doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. It can be as simple as administering family surveys or reporting on the number of applications received.
  3. Attainable. Scope your work to align with your available resources (financial and human), time, and level of stakeholder buy-in. Be realistic when creating your goals. If your long-term goals are large in scope, consider a multi-year phased approach with milestones.
  4. Relevant. How do the problem and the goal relate to each other? Create goals that tie directly to your stated problem.
  5. Time-Bound. Tie your stated goals to specific dates, months, and years that accommodate fixed school calendars. Doing this will ensure you stay on schedule and unify all stakeholders in hitting the targets.

What’s Next?

Districts and schools choose SchoolMint to boost student enrollment, retain teachers and staff, and create positive classrooms. With a full suite of Strategic Enrollment Management solutions, SchoolMint can help you attract and enroll more students and families, then retain them throughout their time with you. 

Stay tuned for part three of this blog series, we’ll cover the people who are at the heart of any Strategic Enrollment Management strategy: your community — and families.

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